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Saturday, May 24, 2008

My first blog post (and the last portion in Vayikra/Leviticus)

Well, I'm beginning my life as a new blogger with an old Torah commentary that I wrote a couple years ago on Parshat Behukotai, which is the last portion in the book of Vayikra/Leviticus.

I'm sort of using this as a test posting and I hope to start in earnest next week with the beginning of Bemidbar/Numbers, the fourth book of the Torah. I hope you enjoy these divrei torah (Torah commentaries) and any further discussions and commentaries that may arise from them!

Shabbat Shalom,

Steven

This week's parashah is Behukotai (Vayikra/Leviticus 26:3-27:34). It is the
final parashah in the book of Vayikra. In this parashah, God tells Moses to
inform the people if they "walk with my statutes and observe my
mitzvot/commandments," all will go well for them. However, if they do not, the
heavens will dry up tragedy will befall them. The parashah then describes in
detail what will happen if the people continue to ignore God's will.

Though I don't take this type of "reward and punishment theology" literally, I
believe that there is an important spiritual lesson to be found in this
parashah. At the start of the parashah, Moses is told that if the people walk
with God, hithalkhti b'toch'chem, "I (God) will walk about in your midst." The
word b'tokh can mean in the midst of the people, but the rabbis often interpret
it as meaning 'within each individual.' In other words, if the people walk in
God's statutes then God will be within each of them wherever they go.

Later in the parashah, God begins to warn the people of the consequences if they
choose not to walk in God's ways. However, the phrasing, "if you walk with me
in opposition, then I will walk with you in opposition" (Everett Fox
translation), is curious. Furthermore, this is mentioned three times in the
parashah. Each time God accuses the people of walking "in opposition with" God
the threatened punishments will be more severe. Nevertheless, the Torah never
states that either the people or God is abandoning one another, for they are
always walking with one another -- even if in opposition. It is almost as if
God is saying, "no matter how much you may seem to reject me you can never
really get rid of me." But beyond that it is also saying that no matter how
much we might go against "God's will" or walk in ways other than those which are
prescribed for us God is still with us -- even if in opposition. However, the
key difference is that God is with us, but not b'tokh/within us.

When we choose not to walk in God's ways God is merely walking next to us. It
is almost as if God becomes a shadow, or even an adversary, who is prepared at
any moment to become our support and comfort. It is our actions, our
opposition, which prevent God from being within us. Our actions are also what
will allow God to be within us once again. As the great Hassidic rebbe Menahem
Mendel of Kotzk said, "God dwells where we let God in." In this parashah, it
seems that God is simply waiting for us to let God in.

For each of us "letting God in," means something different. To some it has a
more anthropomorphic sense; to others it is more mystical. To others, such as
myself, it can have the sense of allowing the Power that brings peace and
goodness into the world to enter and flow through us. Each of us needs to
determine for ourselves what "letting God in" means to us (at least for that
moment) and what we do that prevents God from dwelling within us. In this way,
we can make our lives and our world better by walking with God within us and
infusing all that we do with the oneness of the Divine.

Shabbat Shalom.

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